A Pentecost People

Assistant Rector's House, May 1997

During the General Election campaign open meetings have been held all over the country, so that electors might listen to and question all the candidates. Interestingly, I read somewhere that most of these have been initiated and planned by local churches. On reflection this is not really surprising. For the church is an institution which is concerned about all dimensions of life, and all manner and conditions of people. As a sense of community is disappearing, the church is the only body in many places which is concerned enough and broad enough to make an attempt to bind community. There is no part of human life which does not concern the church, because there is no part of human life which does not concern God.

And this is not just theoretical - this concern for every person and every situation. Among its members the church includes the old, young, rich, poor, clever, simple, weak and powerful, people of every conceivable sort. The church knows from experience the breadth of human needs and desires, because that vast spectrum is represented among its members.

Think of the universal church and that's obvious - from English sovereigns and South American presidents to Polish peasants and African refugees. It's not always so self-evident in every neighbourhood church, where congregations will normally reflect the nature of one locality. But this wonderful mix of people is one of our great treasures at St Peter's. Our congregations on Sunday and during the week represent Christianity in all its variety of persons. Among our regulars we include many different nationalities, the very young and the very old, university teachers and the illiterate, the rich and those who have never had any income other than the "giro" and those without homes, the quite and the noisy, gays and single parents, quite new Christians and people with degrees in theology, the depressed and the happy, the chronically ill and every branch of the medical profession. I could go on and on... and that's not even mentioning our variegated visitors! If this is not how you experience St Peter's, try staying to coffee after the service and talking to someone you don't know; you never know whom you may encounter and what new insights this may lead to! We really are a "rainbow people" (as Bishop Desmond Tutu said in another context).

Or perhaps a "Pentecost people" is a better phrase to use in this coming month, when we will celebrate that feast. At the first Pentecost the first disciples came together as a pretty disparate group, individuals very conscious of their weaknesses and fears, knowing each other's strengths but, fragmented, not sure how to use them. The Holy Spirit moving among them transformed their very being so that they could understand each other, and at last enlivening their hearts and minds to understand what God wanted them to do. Pentecost had an effect on the Apostles, so that they then had an effect on the world.

As Pentecost approaches, that is what we pray for within our amazingly complex community - that the Holy Spirit, impossible to grasp and seen only in his effects - may move among us, enabling us to understand and to learn from each other, so that together we grow in faith and hope and love. But the Spirit of God is never given for the church alone. God is concerned for the whole of human existence. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we are commissioned to go out to live and work to God's praise and glory. We are to go out into the worlds of politics (whatever its complexion may be), of work, of sport, of education, of home and family... and doubtless find he is already at work there. Then we are to weep with those who weep, lament (as did Jesus) over those that see no need to weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice - and try to change what in the depths of our hearts and souls we know needs to be changed.

Eileen McLean

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997